The people of Ukraine have come out in force in a huge rally attempting to pile pressure on President Yanukovych to stop seeking closer ties with Russia.
Tensions between the government and pro-Europe activists are expected to increase as a result of the demonstration, which has drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters to the capital, Kyiv.
In a gesture likely to anger Yanukovych further, protesters in the capital’s Independence Square have put up a giant portrait of his arch rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, decked with anti-government placards.
Leader of the largest political opposition party in Ukraine, Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years in 2011 for alleged abuse of office.
According to protester Victoria Gaponenko, there is a general feeling of anger with the way the government is working:
“We are here for the freedom of Ukraine and for our own personal freedom,” she said. “We don’t want bandits to rule our country.”
Sunday’s rally has even drawn support from outside Ukraine.
“I came here to express my solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” said Antoy Jilko, a protester from Belarus. “This is a historically significant moment because right now not only is Ukraine’s fate being decided, but all of Eastern Europe.”
Ukrainian national Marina Tredner made the trip from Sweden, where she now resides, to support the pro-Europe demonstrations.
“I couldn’t stay in Sweden and just watch what’s happening with my country, and how they destroy everything that’s important to me,” she explained. “I spent the first night here and I think it’s the safest place, actually.”
Speculation that Yanukovych met with Russian president Vladimir Putin to discuss a customs union between the two countries has provoked the rally.
Protesters are concerned that such a union will lead to the creation of a new Soviet Union, and the break up of Ukraine.
Moscow and Kyiv deny discussing this, but has confirmed that the two governments will meet on December 17.
Ukrainian protesters topple Lenin statue in Kiev:
Demonstrators in Kiev take down Lenin statue. Proper start of a good ol' fashioned revolution pic.twitter.com/bQhscN0Lnp— Olaf Koens (@obk) December 8, 2013